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Why I’m still disappointed by How I Met Your Mother’s finale

Deepra Sinha explores the pitfalls of the beloved sitcom's conclusion, and how they could have otherwise been avoided.

Spoiler alert!

The finale of How I Met Your Mother aired in 2014, and its discordance with everything that came before it and unexpected direction has forever marred its legacy in my view.

In case you don’t know, the premise of HIMYM is centred around Ted Mosby, in the year 2030, telling his children the story of how he met their mother, beginning in 2005. Over nine seasons Ted narrates the tale, telling every story under the sun about his life, his group of friends (Marshall, Lily, Barney, and Robin), and romantic relationships, detailing every small choice and experience that led to him eventually meeting the titular Mother. Then at last, in the show’s finale, Ted meets the Mother at a train station, and they live happily ever after… until it cuts back to 2030. It turns out the Mother has been dead for six years, and the point of Ted telling the story to his kids was actually to explain that he was in love with Robin. The show ends with him recreating the big romantic gesture he had made for Robin in the very first season.

To say this was a surprising ending is an understatement, given it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the show would simply end with the long-awaited meeting of Ted and the Mother, but it was one that also frustrated me to no end. It was revealed that the show’s creators, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, had envisioned this ending since the show’s conception, going so far as to film the contribution of Ted’s kids to the ending around the time of season one so that it would not appear that the actors had aged. This demonstrates that Bays and Thomas were committed to having this ending, but disappointingly, they were not committed to it enough to actually lay down the groundwork for it to make sense within the narrative, following nine seasons’ worth of story and character development. Instead of producing a worthwhile twist to what most of the audience thought would be the endgame, they offered a finale full of unearned emotional whiplash.

This is especially a shame since HIMYM often engaged in unique, interesting, funny storytelling throughout its run that set it apart from other sitcoms. The show made excellent use of jumping between different time periods of Ted’s life and hinting at things to come in future episodes; there were running gags across seasons that were executed with finesse, and the show could have such broad humour yet frequently pack an emotional punch that hit perfectly almost every time. For HIMYM to stick the landing and have a legacy filled with goodwill, all they really had to do was have Ted meet the mother in an emotionally satisfying way. For a finale to be considered good, especially that of a sitcom, I do not think that it necessarily has to have unexpected twists.

Ted and Robin had been the show’s main will-they-won’t-they classic sitcom couple for much of the show’s run, even though it was made abundantly clear from the very first episode that Robin was not the Mother. But the final season of HIMYM centred on – and indeed was entirely set during – Robin’s wedding to Barney, and there was even an episode in this season that directly addressed Ted’s continued love for Robin and had him finally letting her go, like letting a balloon float away into the sky. It was a lovely way to end the whole saga, even though we’d seen them go through this before. But this is all the more reason why usurping all of this in the last hour of the final season and having Robin and Barney unexpectedly divorce and Ted apparently still harbouring love for Robin seem even more nonsensical – it came in direct contradiction to everything that had happened earlier within the same season.

Some may view Ted and Robin getting back together after over a decade apart as a realistic reflection of life and appreciate it for that, which is a perspective I can understand. However, when it comes to the actual narrative of the show, their return to each other after so many seasons of Ted and Robin being portrayed as not meant to be together simply does not follow. While Carter and Bays may have envisioned this ending from the start, the fact is that after the extent of their meandering story that often strayed from the show’s original premise and became more about the main characters’ growth, this ending just did not make sense for where the characters ended up. While the finale ending on Ted holding up the blue French horn to Robin’s window – in a recreation of the romantic gesture he did for her in the first season – could be seen as poetic, as Ted and Robin coming full circle, to me it simply exemplifies how the show ignored the sitcom’s narrative progression and the characters’ narrative arc, and brought the characters right back to where they started.

This ending could have still worked if the show had not constantly dangled the mystery of the Mother over the audience’s head for the entirety of the show, reinforcing the notion that meeting her would be the endgame. If she had been introduced sooner, and Ted carried on narrating the story as their relationship progressed, to her eventual death, and then we saw him getting back to a point where he could be with Robin again (and saw the decline of Robin and Barney’s marriage over multiple episodes, rather than shoe-horned in during the last hour of the show), it would have been much more palatable. But Ted meeting the Mother after nine years of the audience waiting, only to kill her off minutes later, and then immediately tell us that Ted is ready to be with Robin again is just an unwelcome shock. Frankly, if Carter and Bays wanted this ending so badly they should not have let HIMYM carry on for as many seasons as it did, adding ever more character development and relationships that would require even more work to make their planned ending justifiable. And while my main gripe with the HIMYM finale is the abandonment of Ted’s and Robin’s development throughout the seasons, I can’t say that I’m entirely satisfied with how the other main characters’ stories ended either.

I truly believe that it would have been relatively easy for HIMYM to end on a sweet, positive note with Ted finally meeting the Mother, even if it was predictable – but its predictability would have been precisely why it would have been satisfying, since that’s what the audience had eagerly been anticipating for nine years. Ultimately though, the finale of HIMYM is a story of how the show creators’ insistence on an ending that did not make sense nearly a decade down the line means that the show’s legacy will always be slightly tarnished, no matter how good its earlier seasons were. Or at least, it will always be tarnished to me.

Image credits: vagueonthehow via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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